Friday, February 26, 2010

Blue on Blue: Part 21

Trust but verify

Singapore's Home Team agencies can teach the Defence Ministry a lesson or two about "hearts and minds", looking at the high scores the Home Team earned in a "trust poll" conducted by the Asian Reader's Digest magazine.

The poll's results show that having truck loads of tax-payers money to burn annually on expen$ive public relations campaigns doesn't always bring the desired results. The Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) at Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) should take note (Apologies to seasoned followers of this blog for lack of creativity in the barbs... you would have seen this one coming.)

Results of the poll published in the Singaporean media today show that Home Team entities were ranked among the top 10 of "Singapore's most trusted individuals" as well as the 10 "most trusted professions"in Singapore.

Earning fourth place in the honour roll of "most trusted individuals" is Khoo Boon Hui, the former Commissioner of Police, Singapore Police Force.

Firefighters were given top billing in the ranking of "most trusted professions". Well done, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

Why has the Home Team - an umbrella team for security-related entities under the charge of the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs - done so well?

Why won't Singaporeans trust the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) warfighters who put their lives on the line 24/7 in security operations like Ops Bascinet, protecting people in Singapore from harm?

The poll was conducted in October 2009. It is said to reflect the views of 760 Singaporeans from a cross section of society. Respondents were asked to rank the shortlisted individuals and professions they had the most faith in.

I had never heard of this poll prior to cracking open today's newspapers and reading stories about the results. I'm also wary of street survey findings as these may not always represent general sentiments.

But seeing the Home Team share the glory box in the list of "most trusted individuals" and "most trusted professionals" made me wonder how MINDEF calculates the key performance indicators for PAFF's hearts and minds campaigns.

To be sure, PAFF's war chest isn't small. PAFF's media campaigns are the envy of public relations (PR) agencies in the Lion City, as they command top dollar in a market still reeling from the financial crisis.

Alas, the size of PAFF's budget isn't always directly proportional to the results, is it?

Government departments cannot craft their PR strategies in a vacuum. An organisation that fails to run as fast as its competitors will be out paced, out gunned and out played in the PR arena. The regular stream of positive coverage on the SPF and urban rescues done by SCDF firefighters probably helped cement the mental image of these Home Team agencies as trustworthy.

PAFF has an uphill fight winning the hearts and minds of the Singaporean public. Many cynics and SAF detractors have heard horror stories about SAF training accidents or mismanagement and distance themselves from the Singaporean military. To these people, the two years of compulsory National Service is a total waste of time. SAF to the cynics means Serve And Forget - so strong are the negative sentiments they harbour.

In addition, the urban myths passed from a father from the First Generation SAF to his Third Generation SAF national servicemen son will no doubt see such negative mindsets linger for at least a generation more.

This is not to say that no one trusts the SAF. There are many Singaporeans who do.

In my younger days, I joined the Navy Biathlon because it sounded like a good idea at the time. I had never done an open sea swim in my life, and went to Sentosa island's Siloso Beach early one Saturday morning to try out the route of the sea swim in the lagoon there. It was ill-advised to swim alone, so I hesitated and decided to mentally chart how I would tackle the course from the safety of the beach.

The Naval Diving Unit (NDU) showed up early that morning and a NDU fatigue party went about its work setting up buoys and lane dividers for Sunday's race. With NDU in the water, I felt I would be safe and went about doing my laps. Even with the signature tune from the movie Jaws playing in my head, I wasn't worried about sea creatures or the off-chance I would get into difficulties while in the water because the NDU combat divers were nearby. I never felt safer swimming in the sea.

As an aside, I should mention that the sea swim took place years before that fateful article in which I wrote that NDU divers played mahjong (it's a noisy Chinese game played with tiles carrying symbols and characters) during a certain SAF operation. I somewhat doubt they'd save me today.... : )

During the tsunami relief operation in Indonesia, concerned colleagues from the 90 cents newspaper and some friends wrote to ask how I was holding up during the operation. I replied I never felt safer. Close at hand were SAF surgeons, doctors, nurses and combat medics - a Singapore Army hospital in the heart of the disaster zone. I knew serious medical casualties could be heli-evacuated by Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Chinooks and airlifted to Singapore in C-130 Hercules aeromedical flights, if the need arose.

That knowledge helped me sustain the 25-day embed with the Operation Flying Eagle team. I left aboard RSS Endurance when the Tank Landing Ship cast off from Tuas Naval Base on 31 Dec 2004 and returned with the LST on 25 January 2005.

It was an experience of a lifetime and I would not have stayed with the SAF one minute more than necessary if I did not have faith in the OFE team.

I really wish I could say the same for PAFF.

Remembering 2LT Daryl Loh

Second Lieutenant Daryl Loh, Republic of Singapore Navy
8 February 1981 - 26 February 2001

As this day dawns, I know the Loh family will cherish the memory of their elder son, Daryl, who died after an accident at Changi Naval Base on 26 February 2001 while serving his full-time National Service.

Painful though it was, I am grateful to Daryl's father, Mr Lawrence Loh, for taking the time to relate the joys of parenthood, watching his son grow from teen to young adult and how much Daryl loved serving the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN).

My takeaway from those sessions was learning firsthand that the pain of losing a family member to a military accident never goes away. It also underlined the importance of transparency in reporting military accidents, and how a family draws strength from their religious faith and the support of the naval squadron that counted their son as one of their own. The Navy Family is indeed real and when the RSN says it takes care of its own, it means it. The Singapore Armed Forces' Services must never forget this virtue.

If you have never come across the next-of-kin of an SAF serviceman share his experience, please take a moment to read Mr Loh's account here.

Thank you Mr Lawrence Loh for teaching me humility and respect for human life.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Loh family on this day.

Daryl, your family continues to love you very much.

"Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Singapore, we died for you."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blue on Blue: Part 20

Losing ground

The next time you see a Singaporean war game, please ask yourself this question: "If this were for real, how would Singapore tell the world its side of the story?"

The Public Affairs Directorate (PAFF) at the Singaporean Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is - on paper at least - the subject matter expert when it comes to shaping public opinion on home ground and abroad. With work plan season on the horizon, PAFF has a stellar opportunity to tell its MINDEF brethren what wonderful plans it has to up its game.

In my opinion, PAFF is fast losing ground and is in a state of suspended animation as poorly-motivated staff officers plough through their work day. Like any bureaucracy, the PAFF machinery continues to creak on day-to-day.

But where, pray tell, is the grand strategic vision, the helicopter view of public relations, the guidance and leadership that Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) manoeuvre forces will need if the button is pressed?

Instead, we find a toxic work environment beset by office politics so complex you need a Venn diagram to understand the situation. Many PAFF officers haven't bothered to do so and the resignation numbers speak for themselves.

The directorate's pitiful showing at this month's Singapore Airshow 2010 is a case in point.

In previous years, PAFF officers put in a lot of hardwork convincing MINDEF HQ that the biennial media reception was worth supporting. In its heyday, the reception held at Paya Lebar Air Base featured a flightline display similar to that seen at an Air Force Open House.

The amount of manpower resources, logistics coordination and financial muscle needed to pull this off was sizeable. So was the payoff for MINDEF/SAF - Singapore won the hearts of the world's more influential defence journalists.

No journalist worth his salt would freely admit to being swayed by MINDEF/SAF's soft sell. But I can tell you MINDEF/SAF had many friends among the foreign media. For a small nation, Singapore punched above its weight class and had an editorial presence that far outweighed its size.

Just look at the images of ASEAN armed forces published in defence magazines during the late 1980s and 1990s. Many of these images came from PIONEER. The outreach in those days pre-dated jpegs and every image came from a print photo or colour transparency (slide) that had to be packed, labelled by hand and sent out to newsrooms around the globe. As images of Asian armed forces were hard to obtain in those days, the SAF enjoyed a stronger presence as a result of this outreach.

Fast forward to SA 2010. PAFF's presence was close to negligible, if you don't count clusters of PAFF officers idly marking time in the Media Room. I did not attend the air show but the picture that my journalist friends and industry contacts painted for me is indeed - how to say this politely? - interesting.

I'm willing to bet that many of the young, some newly-recruited PAFF staff officers won't be there at SA 2012. Unless the directorate changes its management style, they too will quit for the same reasons as their predecessors once they pass the tipping point and decide PAFF is not for them.

This does not bode well for Singapore.

After the tsunami relief mission in early 2005, then Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Ng Yat Chung recognised immediately the need for a strong defence information apparatus to support SAF operations in peace and war.

The SAF was the first foreign force in-theatre in Aceh. In terms of sealift, rotary wing airlift and contributions made in conjunction with Indonesian TNI forces (Tentera Nasional Indonesia), the SAF's effort was deeply appreciated by the Indonesians.

The SAF also deployed to Thailand. Singapore's contribution there was gratefully acknowledged.

At the height of the relief effort, Singapore deployed more of her Endurance-class Tank Landing Ships and Chinook heavy-lift choppers overseas than she had on home ground. Indeed, ALL four LSTs were overseas at one point in time - three off the coast of Meulaboh in Aceh and the fourth in the Persian Gulf.

You do not get this impression flipping through back issues of the world's leading news weeklies such as Time magazine and Newsweek.

The upshot came during the early phase of the operation when an American satellite channel reported that the United States was sending relief forces to Indonesia and used TV footage of an RSAF Chinook lifting off with relief supplies. The remedy was immediate: Singapore flag decals were pasted onto Chinooks and Super Puma helicopters, as well as C-130 tactical transports which aided the Indonesians and Thais. This is why SAF Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) forces now carry prominent Singapore flag markings before deploying on foreign soil.

As I've written in an earlier post, PAFF had a presence in-theatre. But their civilian Media Relations Officers (MROs) struggled to adapt and feel comfortable with the pace of military operations and the regimen of life aboard an RSN warship.

It was the Army Information Centre (AIC) that held the fort. I had dealt with AIC on many occasions prior to Operation Flying Eagle (as the tsunami relief mission was called), and soon came to know many other AIC staff officers who came out of the woodwork.

LTC Chin, MAJ Justin, CPT James, CPT Jethro made invaluable contributions to the media relations outreach, as did the Executive Officer of RSS Endurance, CPT Gerald, who remarked to me on many occasions that he felt like he was running a hotel.

Many foreign journalists used 207 as a one-night stand. They treated the warship as a comfortable air-conditioned stay with clean water, hot showers, cosy bunks and free food. Dear Singaporean tax payers, you paid for all that. : )

The foreign scribes wrote about developments that their TV audiences, newspaper and magazine readers wanted to read about and snapped pictures their readers wanted to see. Naturally, a European or American audience didn't care much about the Singaporean presence. And it showed in the copy that was published in subsequent weeks.

Building up a stronger defence information network isn't about gunning for bragging rights during the next HADR mission. It is about making sure the foreign media is made aware of the SAF's contribution.

In many cases, it's a chicken-and-egg situation. Foreign journalists won't write about us because they hardly know what we've done. Or, we've engaged them cold as total strangers. Would you blame the foreign journalists for gravitating towards their comfort zone and writing about things they know best?

All the lessons learnt from OFE have been put on ice.

The SAF officers deployed to PAFF as MROs have all quit, save one Republic of Singapore Navy Lieutenant. The institutional memory and confidence in dealing with the media that these officers learnt has disappeared.

This begs the question: Who would help Singapore tell its side of the story in a full force potential, hot war situation? If you argue that we won't need a PR voice as war is unlikely, then why train so hard to deter an imaginary foe?

A Singapore Army Armoured Battle Group in battle formation makes an impressive sight. But whose territory would we fight on? How would we argue our case?

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has the largest fleet of F-16 warplanes in Southeast Asia. When all F-15SG Strike Eagles come home to roost, the RSAF's fighter fleet will outnumber that of Malaysia and Indonesia combined. The hitting power of these warplanes is formidable when unleashed. But against whom? What if the enemy alleges we have struck a civilian target?

The deterrent value of the SAF comes about when potential adversaries know it is a force to be reckoned with. This mental image of an operationally-ready SAF, ready to strike, evaporates when a thinking enemy - I repeat, a thinking enemy - does some scenario generation and comes to realise that a fully deployed SAF lacks the PR machinery to back it up in time of war.

Even amongst our own Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (i.e. reservists) and cynical Singaporeans, a fair number would probably use the local dialect term "wayang" (or stage play) to describe SAF battle manoeuvres.

Singapore won't feel the impact of a combat ineffective PAFF in these halcyon days.

Our relations with our northern neighbour are rosy. Same goes with Indonesia after some atmospherics some years back.

But in 2011, when our first Water Agreement with Malaysia is due to expire, can anyone make a sure bet by saying the theatrics won't return? Will the agreement lapse quietly without fanfare, or will both sides be on their guard?

In planning before hostilities, one can expect a resourceful adversary to pull out all the stops to woo the world's public opinion.

We saw this happen in the Lebanon in 2006 when Hezbollah proved it had a clear understanding of what was needed to fight the information war. They engaged foreign news agencies, provided MROs in the field and even distributed images of alleged atrocities to the world's media.

On the last day of the war before the ceasefire, Hezbollah is said to have launched the largest one-day rocket barrage. Are you surprised they too declared victory?

As a point of interest, it's worth noting that the Malaysian Armed Forces has sent a sizeable peace keeping contingent to the Israel-Lebanon border. If you were there, would you not take a walk around the former battlefield and build a picture of how the belligerents fought one another? I would.

During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the IDF learned the hard way how its opponents had taken war into cyberspace. In response, the IDF Spokesman's office launched its own website after seeing Hamas gain ground in the virtual battlespace. See the IDF Cast Lead site here.

If the SAF has to one day deploy the way it trains to fight, who will tell the world our side of the story?

With PAFF in the doldrums, I personally hope the SAF Services can step up, like they did during OFE, to show leadership and take command during an emergency. In this regard, I have faith things are being done but will not elaborate for opsec reasons.

As for PAFF, the leadership is uninspiring. In my honest opinion, I won't even trust a certain someone to lead the Boys' Brigade.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fighting the online info war

When Singapore's first casino opened its doors on the first day of the Lunar New Year (Sunday 14 Feb 2010), the milestone was accompanied by a deliberate effort to ramp-up the integrated resort's (IR) online presence.

The reason was simple: there would be no newspapers published the day after except for the English-language tabloid, The New Paper. Without a lively Facebook presence, the IR would have virtually no means of updating the public on events on its premises.

Television news is transient. Radio news is more accessible, but nothing beats images and news that people can read at their leisure on the web. The IR's 41,000 Facebook friends would probably agree.

The stable of newspapers controlled by Singapore Press Holdings enjoy two print holidays annually. These fall on Christmas Day and the first day of Chinese New Year.

Defence professionals would do well to study the value of online media because newspapers may not be there for the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) all the time. If a defence-related issue ever cropped up on X'mas Day or CNY 1, MINDEF/SAF's point of view on the issue would not appear in the national press till two days later. Think about that.

During operations, media agencies are likely to be on the hit list of strategic targets drawn up by hostile forces. Media agencies - newspapers, radio and television - help maintain and strengthen a nation's resolve and will to fight. This is especially important for Singapore as the Lion City relies heavily on citizen soldiers to flesh out SAF combat formations and combat service support units.

News gathering by the Singaporean media can be disrupted, degraded, delayed or destroyed by targeting newspaper printing plants, telecommunications towers and TV transmitters. It's for this reason that media companies in Singapore maintain satellite plants in several locations on the tiny island. This contingency plan swung into action during the SARS crisis in early 2003 when SPH dispersed its newsroom operations to ensure newspapers would continue to function in the event one satellite newsroom was infected with the virus.

It's no surprise that hostile forces will try to take out an adversary's mass media network because the role of the mass media in information operations has been well documented.

This brings us back to the new kid on the block: online media - blogs, Facebook and so on.

Just as the IR found online media a useful complement to traditional media, MINDEF/SAF too could consider increasing its presence in cyberspace.

Its online footprint is currently passive. MINDEF news releases, PIONEER magazine images and Youtube videos are disseminated in a largely one-way street with almost zero reader participation.

Online media cannot replace traditional means of communicating with the public. It should be viewed as a complement to traditional concepts of mass media, another arrow in the quiver for information warriors who work with the mantra "who else needs to know?".

Netizens can also serve a valuable role in shaping public awareness of, and reactions to a host of defence-related issues. Singapore should tap the huge community of netizens as a virtual tripwire, sussing out opinions and debunking inaccurate postings about Singaporean defence matters. Another key advantage is the large number of English literate netizens who can reach out to the international community. Web postings can be updated from anywhere around the globe 24/7, thus frustrating an adversary's efforts to kill public opinion should he succeed in taking out traditional media infrastructure.

During the Second World War, Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) used civilian plane spotters to augment its network of Chain Home air defence radar towers. The Royal Observer Corps, as these aviation enthusiasts were grouped under, proved immensely useful in detecting, tracking, identifying and reporting the size and heading of German Luftwaffe formations over British skies.

In much the same way, a community of netizens allied to Singaporean interests can serve as a virtual "tripwire" for MINDEF/SAF.

In September 2007, the first hint that an SAF serviceman had run away from camp with a rifle and bullets came from the website, I remember reading that post and thinking it was a hoax. But discrete enquiries with the police and SAF contacts proved otherwise and my queries culminated in an ill-timed phone call that Monday evening with a contact from the Singapore Police Force Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) Unit - whom I have on speed dial.

The STAR contact cut off my call. How rude, I thought. He called me back the next morning to tell me he was in the midst of a debriefing as they had caught Dave Teo - the soldier who ran away with his SAR-21 assault rifle and several 5.56mm rounds. On that Tuesday morning, the STAR contact made time to talk and I pieced together how the soldier was cornered in a shopping mall toilet. Just to disgress: STAR gave me a scoop by officially relating how they caught Dave Teo and the Page 1, Page 2 and 3 expose in The Sunday Times won me and a fellow journalist an award for good work.

Singaporean netizens were also the first to blow the whistle on a mysterious blog about lighthouses which went online during the International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings on the ownership of Pedra Branca. Photo buffs pointed out the uncanny timing of the lighthouse blog's appearance and some website sleuths with more time on their hands uncovered the fact that the website seemed hastily cobbled together from material culled from other sites.

Photo buffs also pointed out that the image of Pedra Branca on the website seemed skewed to the Malaysian point of view. Frightfully odd, isn't it?

I will not knock the Malaysians further because I work for a Malaysian company, but I think the point to remember here is the vital role a community of netizens on patrol can perform in policing the web. :-)

I hear from my Mexican friends that whenever news agencies flash online polls on issues that concern their nation, say for example, "Is a just war being waged against Hezbollah?", they will mobilise hundreds and log on to the news agency's website to vote. Such direct action obviously skews the online poll's results in their favour. But to do so, they must first have a community of netizens who are organised and committed to their country's cause.

This is something Singapore could emulate easily as the Lion City has more computers per capita and is better wired than any of its ASEAN neighbours.

Identities on the internet cannot be built up overnight. On many discussion boards, netizens take time to craft a credible online persona by ensuring their comments make sense, are reasonably logical and police the site by ticking off people who post flame bait.

A community of Singaporeans active on the world's more influential discussion boards is a strategic asset which should be engaged more actively.

Anyone fighting an information war will know that information warfare can be viewed very much like war in the physical domain. There are strategic, operational art and tactical issues to consider. The Principles of War: Objective, Offensive, Mass/Concentration, Economy of Force, Manoeuvre, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise and Simplicity also apply in information warfare.(Note: There have been more tenets added but the ones I type here from memory come from an old copy of FM 100-5 Operations. I recite the tenets and their respective definitions by heart repeatedly while doing laps in the pool :-)

There are centres of gravity which will hurt too.

In my collection of magazines is an old issue of Newsweek dated 27 May 1996. I kept the entire issue to remind myself of the human side of news-gathering and that people on the receiving end of a journalist's spadework can feel distressed or troubled.

That magazine contains a story on the suicide of United States Navy Admiral Jeremy "Mike" Boorda, who was the first American to rise from enlisted man to head the US Navy as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Admiral Boorda shot himself in the chest on his front porch in May that year just before Newsweek journalists were due to interview him about doctored medals. The journalists were chasing a lead that claimed the admiral had added a combat decoration called a "V" to the decoration he won for service in Vietnam.

Seen in isolation, the investigative reporting on the combat "V"s was a trivial matter. But it evidently bothered the late admiral so much that he killed himself. It was a great pity. Having read the feature story on Admiral Boorda's life, I felt the US Navy had lost a talented individual. When I was a journalist, I always kept that story in mind when chasing stories on people's personal lives that might stray into sensitive territory.

In similar vein, hostile forces charting their strategic information campaign will suss out centres of gravity of their adversary. It could be a virtue like a person's sense of self-worth or an organisation's public image.
For example, a senior officer may feel aggrieved or ashamed if his failed marriage is made known - plus juicy details on why the union collapsed. That fact would, in theory at least, count as a centre of gravity worth exploiting.

All can be torn down with direct action or a proxy war fought through other means.

To sum up: The online battlespace is there for the taking. If we don't exploit it, our adversaries most surely will.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thoughts on defence

Generate and Sustain: Aircraft tractors fielded by the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC) serve a vital and often under-appreciated role in giving Singapore's warplanes a lethal edge. Without APGC weapons officers and specialists who drive tractors like this one and rearm, refuel and reload RSAF aircraft and helicopters, the full force potential of the RSAF's fixed and rotary wing fleet would count for nought.
A Million Moments, One World: Harlan tractors are used by the Sentosa Integrated Resort to tow trams in the cavernous underground car park. Give it a coat of warpaint and put APGC personnel behind the wheel and it would be ready to serve the RSAF during operations.

Strange as it may sound, a pre-opening walkabout at Singapore's first Integrated Resort (IR) this past week set me thinking about a host of defence-related issues.

Thoughts about defence issues kicked in when I chanced upon an old friend while in the IR's cavernous basement car park. It was a Harlan tractor of the kind commonly found on Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) air bases.

The Harlan parked at the IR sported a shiny coat of paint and had two trams in tow. Parked by a tram stop, the Harlan was waiting for the day when she would ferry guests around the car park, saving them the walk which measures some 900 metres from extreme ends.

In my previous job as Defence Correspondent, the Harlan tractors I saw were battle wagons used by the RSAF Air Power Generation Command (APGC). The Harlans (and Toyotas) are essential links in the integrated air defence network that is designed to result in the total destruction of hostile units and target sets by RSAF warplanes.

Comparing the then-and-now images of the Harlan tractors shows a striking contrast in the two machines - the IR's Harlan polished and prepared for a peacetime role; APGC's battle wagon an unsung hero in the RSAF's complex drawer plans.

The same analogy could be extended to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The full force potential of the densely-populated island republic - which is about three-and-a-half times the size of Washington DC - rest with its citizen soldiers.

The SAF also relies on civil resources such as Singapore Airlines Cargo freighters, state-owned container ships and thousands of specialised civilian-registered vehicles like container trucks, cranes and heavy machinery to support its war machines in time of crisis.

These drawer plans were drawn up, improved upon over the years and are tested regularly. The fact that citizen soldiers and CR assets can be activated at a moment's notice makes the Total Defence strategy an essential element of Singapore's deterrent posture against hostile elements.

Just as the IR's Harlan could serve on an air base if it was requisitioned by Singaporean authorities and given a coat of warpaint, Singapore's civil resources give the SAF the staying power and long reach that people often overlook during peacetime.

Defence issues also sprung to mind when I reviewed the website of our rival IR, Marina Bay Sands.

One image on the MBS website indicates how air traffic brings Singapore closer to tourist markets around Asia.
Little Red Dot: This chart from Marina Bay Sands reminds me of missile range rings that Singapore's falls within. (Source: Marina Bay Sands)

The chart reminded me of missile range rings mentioned by Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean when he talked about the emerging threat from ballistic missiles in a media interview in 2007. So just as marketing planners at Singapore's two IRs rub their hands with glee when they see how air routes shrink travel distances, I imagine that Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) defence planners look at similar charts with concern.

Commercial airliners bring Asian cities closer. Warplanes, missiles and battlefield rockets do the same.

MINDEF's long-term projections must factor in the impact that long-range munitions, such as aircraft-delivered munitions or ballistic missiles, will have on Singapore's defence posture.

Defence planning goes above and beyond merely looking across the border and comparing what Malaysia and Indonesia have in their respective arsenals. It involves forecasting future threats and studying how Singapore could create a proverbial iron dome to defend its skies from the steel rain launched from a hostile shore.....

Speaking of mental stimuli, one result of leaving journalism for the glitzy world of casino gaming is the different kind of secrets I see in the IR.

In the past, sensitive material touched on issues that MINDEF's Military Security Department would take issue with. You know, Project this and Project that, plus all the black diamonds and unnamed combat capabilities and war chariots we have stashed away somewhere.

Now, sensitive material involves choosing between cotton, spandex or a polyester mix for one's significant other, with the risque product lines explained cheerfully by the bubbly salesgirls at Victoria's Secret.

So a different kind of secret has landed on my lap, but I'm reminded from time to time of the role the SAF serves in keeping Singapore safe from harm.

With Total Defence Day (15 Feb) just round the corner, perhaps you should too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

IR Opening: 1218 Hotel 14 Feb 2010

Tally Ho!

(In the photo in the earlier post, I'm standing right at the end of this hall near the glass sculpture)

P r e s s  R e l e a s e
Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore’s First Integrated Resort Casino opens 14 Feb 2010; Celebrates with Universal Studios Singapore Previews

Singapore, 11 Feb 2010 - Singapore’s first Integrated Resort (IR), Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), will begin the first day of the Tiger year with the soft-opening of its casino and a preview opportunity to stroll through the amazing environments at Universal Studios Singapore and enjoy the specially themed dining and shopping venues that will complement the incredible attractions, rides and shows that soon will be revealed.

The casino, the Resort’s much-anticipated attraction, will have its first play at an auspicious hour with a private ceremony and welcome its first public guest at 12.18 pm. A day of festivities at the Integrated Resort has been planned to mark the red-letter day, including the debut of its public attraction, Lake of Dreams, and evening previews at its Universal Studios theme park.

The casino opening is part of the initial phased opening of Singapore’s first IR that began on 20 Jan 2010 with the opening of its four hotels: Crockfords Tower; Hotel Michael; Festive Hotel; and Hard Rock Hotel Singapore. Its shopping and dining promenade, FestiveWalk, soft-opened on 30 Jan 2010.

Chairman of Resorts World Sentosa and the Genting Group, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay said: “In less than three years since the time we broke ground and commenced construction for Resorts World Sentosa, we have taken our vision from drawing board to reality. This is a significant milestone in Singapore’s business history. We promised to deliver a true Integrated Resort, and we have not deviated from that.”

Chief Executive Officer of Resorts World Sentosa, Mr. Tan Hee Teck said: “We know a lot of Singaporeans are looking forward to the opening of both our major elements, the casino and Universal Studios Singapore. We are ready to soft-open the casino but are still fine-tuning the rides and shows in the theme park, which are still on schedule to open in the first quarter of 2010. However, since its Chinese New Year, we decided to offer Singaporeans a week long preview of Universal Studios Singapore with a special and unique first-to-see walk-through opportunity. The theme park’s unique restaurants and shopping venues will be open for guests, although rides and shows will not be operational. However, we are confident that the park’s design, vistas and photo opportunities will truly excite and impress guests and motivate them for return visits when fully operational.”

“We celebrate the New Year with the people of Singapore and are thrilled to provide a sneak peek of Universal Studios Singapore during this festive holiday period,” said Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO, Universal Parks & Resorts. “It’s an exciting time for all of us and a great opportunity to share a glimpse of the action, thrills and adventure that Universal will bring to the region.”

For sneak peek week, Universal Studios Singapore will open from 5pm to 9pm every night from 14 Feb to 21 Feb. Admission will be by $10 tickets, rebated by a same-value dining voucher. Sale of the tickets starts from 11:18am Friday, 12 Feb 2010. Guests can visit the box office at the Universal Studios Singapore front gate to purchase tickets for another day (there will be no same day ticket sales available).

Following the sneak peek week, Universal Studios Singapore will open on 22 Feb 2010 to Resorts World Sentosa, Genting, and Universal employees followed by limited audiences of staff families, charities and invited guests. It expects to welcome its first public guests in early March.

Casino Levy

Singapore citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents can start buying the casino levy at the similar time of 11.18 am on Friday, 12 Feb 2010. The levy can be bought from counters outside the Resorts World™ Sentosa casino and online at Details of the tours, levy terms and conditions will be posted online from Friday. Enquiries can be made at or 6577 8888/99.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The week it all happens

First play: The Big C seen on Saturday 11 October 2008 during a site inspection. Some of the PRC construction workers were quite amused when I showed up in a Taiwanese traffic police safety vest.

IR in the making: My first tour of the Big C. See how far we've progressed.

So this is the week it all happens.

It's one of the market's worst kept secrets. The tell-tale signs are there for all who bother to drag their butts out of the newsroom to take a look, instead of writing up the year's most-anticipated news release from the comfort of the newsroom with one dial-a-quote comment thrown in for good measure.

The additional C levy booths being hammered together in the shopping mall, the opening banners already installed and tied up to the columns, the opening ceremony stage set up in front of the big C. All these leading indicators are plainly visible in the public area.

Don't just look. Listen. Can you hear the buzz coming from the big C as rehearsals put the crew through their paces? The din of a gaming floor in full swing is quite distinctive.

Fight's On: The Battlestar Galactica Dueling Coasters, the tallest pair of dueling coasters in the world, underwent stringent tests consisting of several thousand runs using crash test dummies before it carried its first human passengers.

Over at the park, it was an exercise in futility trying to conceal ride tests. The roller coasters went through thousands of ride cycles with water-filled crash test dummies before the first humans boarded the coaches for the ride of their lives. It passed with flying colours.

Anyone passing by in the monorail would've noticed other kinds of stress tests on multiple occasions. Singaporeans love their food. Slashing menu prices by a hefty amount attracted hungry staff by the hundreds.

And yet market watchers missed these indicators. Oh well.

I've a heap of stuff to write about after the Singapore Airshow 2010. Will do so when I find time to take a breather - which should be soon.

Gong Hei Fatt Choy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sentosa IR update

The monorail station and FestiveWalk shopping strip opened today at 14:08 hrs.

There's more to come. Stay tuned.

Can't take leave to attend the Singapore Airshow 2010. This will be the first time I've missed the airshow since 1984. Oh well....